HOW NEXT-GEN NBA PLAYERS ARE REWRITING THE RULES OF ATHLETE STYLE
The relationship between athletes and fashion has always been a tight-rope walk, where one side of the abyss is clichéd, gaudy logomania and the other side is straight up anti-fashion sportswear.
There haven’t been many professional athletes that have been able to walk the tightrope between the two extremes. Now, however, the next-gen of NBA superstars has turned that tightrope into more of a suspension bridge, with enough space to experiment authentically with their personal style, without having to worry about falling off.
In short: the new-age NBA players are comfortably more stylish than their predecessors. Their looks don't give off the try-hard vibe that older professional athletes have sometimes inadvertently radiated. The inauthenticity that fueled our problem with the NBA’s red carpet in the past is evaporating and being replaced by confident, on-point fits.
It’s a trend that we’ve noticed with athletes in other sports over the past year or two, too. Football players in Europe were once a stereotype — their style was a meme, and rightly so. Skinny jeans, gaudy luxury brand logo T-shirt, and a DSQUARED Icon trucker cap, that was the look. But even that has changed thanks to players such as Hector Bellerin, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Serge Gnabry, all of whom have a deeper fascination and knowledge of fashion and brands.
The same can be said about the likes of Kelly Oubré Jr., Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or other players of that ilk. Their style seems effortless, well-thought-out, and — most importantly — personal. That’s not to say that some of the older guys in the NBA can’t dress. Special shout-out goes to P.J. Tucker who, as the sneaker king of the league, sometimes flies under the radar (I mean, look at this fit).
But too often in the past have players showed up in ill-fitting tailoring (I’m looking at you, LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers) or flamboyant outfits composed of expensive brands that just screamed, “I’m only wearing this to get on Highsnobiety.” All jokes aside, this isn’t a post to dump on NBA veterans, but rather to celebrate a new generation of basketball stars and their decidedly on-point style.
While there are now a plethora of names to choose from — unthinkable only two years ago — we’ve identified five next-gen NBA players whose style we seriously fuck with. All five players, along with their best fits, are outlined below.
The new-age NBA player’s style is too nice. Here are our five favorites.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has somehow flown under the radar, but he has made a good case to be considered the most stylish of our top 5. The best way to describe the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is casual. Shai is most comfortable in T-shirts and jeans or a hoodie and sweats. If that doesn’t sound stylish to you, it’s because we’ve probably massively undersold just how capable Shai is of matching these staple pieces to create an interesting outfit.
The OKC star plays with different colors, textures, and patterns to create eye-catching fits that go beyond the “cozy boy” style. He makes looking comfortable effortlessly cool. Style is all about being able to see the bigger picture and matching pieces with one another to create a type of story. Shai does just that and more. If only we all looked as good in a hoodie and jeans but, alas, we are not Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
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Devin Booker was never really the most stylish guy on the pre-game red carpet, nor was he the least. But since he’s begun dating Kendall Jenner, his overall fit quality has undoubtedly gone up. Call it the Kardashian-Jenner effect (we just hope it doesn’t also affect to his on-court performance).
What Booker does well is lead with the basics. He’s not the most flashy guy and doesn’t wear the craziest colors. But give him the chance, and he’ll impress with his ability to piece key basics together, playing with silhouettes in the process. Don’t mistake his style as basic, though, as there’s a science to getting the easy things right consistently — something that shouldn’t be underrated.
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Kelly Oubre Jr.
The last time we put together a style competition featuring our favorite NBA players, Kelly Oubre was left off the list and famously tweeted his annoyance at the fact, which was picked up by ESPN’s Sportscenter. This time, rest assured, we’ve included Kelly in our top 5. Kelly has purged his Instagram of fit pics, which were once a constant on his feed, much to the annoyance of our graphics team. That doesn’t mean the Phoenix Suns player isn’t stylish, though.
Out of all the players on this list, Oubre Jr. has the most distinct and constant style, which is best described as rockstar gothic. One of his best-ever fits involved Oubre Jr. wearing a Guns n Roses T-shirt, tucked neatly into his black denim pants. He offers something different to the usual streetwear or high-end luxury brands we so often see athletes wearing and, for that reason, Oubre Jr. could not be left off of our list.
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Kyle Kuzma probably has one of the more experimental styles on this list and by no means is every single outfit a hit. But that’s always going to be the case when you’re pushing boundaries. What Kuzma does well, is that he falls back on a wide range of brands and types of styles. He’s no stranger to Rick Owens, but will also rock up in a CPFM T-shirt.
Currently, Kuzma’s favorite sneakers seem to be Lanvin’s ’00s skate-inspired Curb Sneakers and we have to admit that he’s one of a few people that has rocked the shoes without being engulfed by them. According to my research, it hasn’t happened yet, but I’d love to see what Kuz could do with visvim, in particular the iconic FBT.
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Jordan Clarkson is admittedly not the youngest player on our list — at 28 he’s been in the NBA since 2014 — but he’s just young enough to qualify. Clarkson, who currently plays for the Utah Jazz and played for the Los Angeles Lakers before that, is a chameleon when it comes to his personal style.
Some days he’s snapped wearing a matching Martine Rose outfit while clutching a crotchet bag, and on other days he opts to combine CPFM x Kid Cudi merch with $1,000 Phenom LA yarn track pants. Clarkson never looks out of his element, he plays well with colors and his pants always fall well over whatever sneaker he’s chosen to slip into that day (more often than not, it’s been a pair of Air Jordans or Nike Dunks). His penchant for successfully matching his pants to his sneakers is worth pointing out because for many people that is the hardest part of an outfit to achieve — especially for NBA players that are on the taller side of life.